Saturday, 31 March 2012

Your first bill is...

"Thank you for registering with BT. Your first bill is £62.50, due now."

How the fucking bejeesus is it £62.50? I've been in this house for 12 days. I have made precisely one phone call on that line. How in FUCK can I possibly owe you £62.50?

"Thank you for changing your address with Lloyds TSB online. Please find enclosed forms that you must fill in and bring into the nearest branch."

Right. So your convenient online system involves you sending out forms which I then have to fill in and physically bring to the branch? I see, yes. That makes total sense. How very convenient.

"Here is your new tax code for 2012/2013. When you cease claiming jobseekers allowance it will be altered."

Er. What now? Would that be the jobseekers allowance I stopped claiming in May 2011? THAT jobseekers allowance? So the fact that I was registered self employed and was paying you National Insurance for the last seven months, details of which I know you have on record, didn't alert you to the fact that perhaps I signed off the dole?

"We estimate you will be paying £60 for gas a month and £40 on electricity. We have set up your direct debit mandate for these amounts."

Yes, yes, that sounds about right. If I was a family of six. Twats.

"We have now amended your records to show that you are single occupancy in order to get the discount. Please find attached your first bill."

Oh thanks. That's great. Oh, wait, it's showing I owe you the full amount. There's no discount. Wait... how? No, don't take it out of my accou.... oh bollocks.

All utilities can go fuck themselves. A new acquaintance up here in York says his way of dealing with all this shit is to just run away and assume they'll never find him. He's 21 so he doesn't know yet that they ALWAYS find you. But it's looking remarkably appealing right now.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Smoke 'em if you gottem

Or don't. Even if you have got them.

I seem to have accidentally given up smoking. I'm not entirely sure how. I'm not even entirely sure why. Apart from the obvious: cancer, heart disease, wrinkles, yada yada.

It's not the most obvious time to give up, when going through enormous Life Events. This week has been interesting so far. I have discovered many things about myself. Things like: I really am a Waitrose person given the choice. And that having a back yard makes me inordinately happy. And that not having the internet sucks balls. Really badly. And that I can live without SKY TV. And that I quite like planting things in pots on the offchance that they will grow into bigger things. And that as long as my cat is happy then I can deal with pretty much anything. And that having a dog in the office is beyond awesome. BEYOND AWESOME.

And now I appear to be learning that I can go six days without cigarettes and it's not actually that bad. In fact, if you just keep telling yourself you'll have one later if you still want it, then you'll find that you're pretty much OK without them.

It's a funny old world.

Are you hungry?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll recently noticed a veritable avalanche of advertising for a film called The Hunger Games. I didn't take too much notice to begin with, as the trailer seemed a little Harry Potterish for me. Albeit with superior acting skills. Not at all sure how they could be inferior than that particular casting choice. I just don't get how whatsisname, Daniel Radcliffe, is getting work.

Anyway, as I say, I didn't take too much notice of a film that was dubbed by someone or other as 'the next Twilight'. The last thing the world needs, frankly, is another Twilight. One was more than enough. In fact, unless vampires get a LOT cooler, and fast, we can probably do without them altogether. Stephenie Meyers has singlehandedly destroyed nearly 200 years' worth of undead awesome. She should be shot. Actually shot. With a gun.

On second looks though, I noticed that The Hunger Games is some kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian future story (it's difficult to write the word dystopia without prefixing it with 'neo-noir' for reasons that about 12 people in the entire world would understand).

I love a good post apocalyptic dystopia, me. I've always been drawn to films, books and TV series that give me that good old armageddon-is-coming feeling. That emotion where you can almost, but never quite, but almost feel that everything actually is going to end and life as you know it will be over. Whatever the outcome - whether it's a new state run by an evil dictator, or a world where reading is banned, or just a total nightmarish wasteland a la Threads, doesn't really matter. It's that feeling that it's all going to be over, any second now and you're just waiting for it to happen. In slo mo, like at the end of Melancholia.

Maybe it's a response to growing up as a child of Thatcher, always aware of the threat of nuclear war. I used to have nightmares featuring a mushroom cloud over the horizon from about the age of five. Or maybe it's the part of me that thinks the earth would be better off if it did just happen - that we've probably had our time on this earth. We've used up all our lives and we're raping the final resources in manner of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Either way, the dystopia bit got my attention. Then I read somewhere that it's a franchise of books that have been incredibly popular in America. I also read that it's aimed at the Twilight demographic. There it is again. That cancerous lump of poorly written, badly constructed, anti-feminist bullshit. Tainting everything in its path. Even, at one point, a version of Wuthering Heights, which was reissued with a sticker on it saying 'Bella's favourite book'. I'd really like to meet whichever sad bastard who was responsible for that tidy piece of desecration.

Twilight is a piss poor approximation of literature. It's the repressed sexual fantasies of a middle-aged religious nut, who appears to think that women should subjugate themselves to their partner, no matter what kind of emotional abuse is heaped upon them. Her weak, weak heroine gives up everything - including her actual life - because she can't get over how dreamy her boyfriend is. She would rather be turned into a member of the undead than not go out with the pretty boy. Bella sums up everything I wouldn't want my teenage daughter to identify with - a girl who gives her life up for a man, a girl who can't function without him, a girl who never finds out who she could have been. And then at another point almost goes with a different man because the first man doesn't seem to want her anymore and obviously not having any man would be just unthinkable...

It preaches that the only way to live is part of a couple. It teaches that a boyfriend's will is more important that your own. It teaches that if you really, really want to fuck a guy, like REALLY badly, then it's fine to give up your entire personality.

I have read the first two books of the Twilight saga, lest you think I'm just banging on without facts to back up my rant. They were the most badly written fiction I have ever read since I attempted to read The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I downloaded the first book of The Hunger Games.

And I'm so glad I did. A heroine to look up to, a well constructed universe, a coherent storyline, a plausible back story with a stark message. There is no flinching from death here. People don't get to live forever while at the same time being, like, breathtakingly sexy and having fabulous hair. Here, people die. There is a distinct lack of supernatural bullshit, which means the writer has to actually, you know, plot when she wants the story to go somewhere.

Tense, engrossing, convincing, The Hunger Games is everything Twilight is not. It's inspiring for girls: always remain independent is its message. Don't just lay down and change who you are. Even if you have the best, most understanding, all round ace boyfriend ever, don't let them have all of you. And learn how to use a bow and arrow. You can save yourself.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A letter to my friends

I suck at relationships. I'm just not good with them. I don't have the knack that other girls seem to have. I don't fall for people easily and when I do, it's generally the wrong people. My brain is wired incorrectly it seems.

But one thing I do have is an absolutely stunning knack of finding friends who are deeply special. Some of them are actually both kinds of special, come to think of it.

Tonight I sampled the best Leamington Spa has to offer for my leaving party. Which is basically The Clarendon, a pub that became a second home this last year, and The Assembly. The Assembly is one of  the biggest condundrums Leamington has to offer. A beautiful venue populated almost entirely by people that, frankly, scare the bejeesus out of me. Horrible music, plastic cups and more hotpants than I can deal with. But my friends stuck it out to the bitter end, dancing to awful music and drinking crap drinks. Just for me.

And, for someone who finds writing bollocks so easy, I don't find it easy to say what I really want to say to these amazing people. That I will miss them every day. That every time they picked me up when it all went to hell and listened to me whinge and cry means the world to me. That I have 12 years' worth of memories from this town and these people that I will not forget. That their friendship, support and fun times is worth so much to me. That some of them have become my family, as I'm rather lacking in an actual one these days.

I have no idea if what I'm doing is the right thing. I don't know what's around the corner. But I do know that my life is richer, more interesting and better because of my friends. I'll miss you all very much. And although I appreciate that in the grand scheme of things moving to York isn't up there with going into battle or moving to the other side of the world, this is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, and it's your belief in me that is giving me the courage to do it.

Y'all know who you are.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The greatest man I have ever met

I was a daddy's girl. I still am a daddy's girl. Even though he's been dead for 11 years.

He was my best friend for the last few years of his life. It wasn't always that way. I was the world's worst teenager (I did try and explain to my parents that actually, I wasn't. I was pretty normal really. A bit too much drinking. A lot too many drugs. But on the whole it was nothing, you know, sinister). They wouldn't have it. But I guess that's also probably pretty normal.

But after a nervous breakdown, a couple of years of therapy and a good long time off the booze, I did get my shit together in time to develop an amazing friendship with my dad.

He was intelligent, erudite, sharp, sarcastic and the single funniest person I have ever met. He was also my total champion and my believer. He believed in the instrinsic goodness in me. He knew I would be a writer. He knew me completely and accepted all of me, the good (limited, let's be honest), the bad and the fucked up.

He struggled with a long, long illness. Heart disease doesn't have the same cachet as, say, cancer, in terms of people understanding the impact it has on the sufferer and the people around them. Someone has a heart attack and they either die or they don't - from the outside that's pretty much all there is to it. And heart surgery has come a long, long way since my dad had his first heart attack. These days they would have had him in under a local and put a stent in his heart. This would pretty much have saved his life, or at least given him many, many more years. Back in the mid-80s it was a very different story.

He was 39 when he had his first. And 41 when he had his second. He was 43 when he had a double bypass - an absolutely brutal operation which consists of removing a major artery from the leg, smashing through the rib cage to get to the heart and literally bypassing the blocked parts of the aorta.

I remember the day he had it. I sat at school and I watched the clock. Four hours of open heart surgery with a machine keeping him alive. He survived it, and, although his ribcage would forever grind against itself (it never knitted back into place) he lived another 13 years.

But none of that encapsulates the fear he lived with every day. The frustration and pain. The exhaustion and curtailed activities that blighted his life, and in turn ours. I grew up aware that he had a limited time with us. As the years passed I convinced myself that he was different and would defy the doctors' expectations. But it was a shadow that hung over us every single day.

And because of our relationship he would tell me how very scared he was and how he wasn't ready to die. He also said that he knew he wouldn't live to see 60. As in so many things, he was totally correct.

My parents retired to the Isle of Wight to start a new chapter at the beginning of 2001. Less than three months later he was buried there. He was 56 years old.

He never saw me become a writer. He never saw me become independent. He will never see me get married (although, to be fair, nor will anyone else probably), he will never meet his grandchildren. And I will never get to speak to him again.

I'm closer to accepting all of these things than I probably have ever been. Grief is a long, painful, bitter, shattering process. I've come to realise that it's something that will forever be a part of me and a part of my life. The way to deal with it is to absorb it into you and to only look at it from a distance. Leave it in a box in your head and don't take the lid off. Because it'll smack you in the face with a force as strong as the minute you heard the words: "Your dad is dead."

But most of all I'm pissed off that my friends, my nephew, my niece and people who are important in my life, never got the chance to meet a totally brilliant person. So, dad, it may be 11 years later but you live on through me. You were fucking ace. I love you.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Love all the people - how many times?

It's fun this packing thing. It's exciting and fills me with a certain joy and optimism.

I jest. Obviously.

It's like pulling teeth one by one, painfully and slowly and really really getting into that bit where the bone is crunching and the roots have to be smashed out with a small hammer. I hate it. I hate digging through my treasures and uprooting them from the homes they have rested in for the past five years. I hate finding out that I have not one, not two, not three, but four copies of Shirley. And I don't even like it very much.

I hate culling books and clothes and trying to shoehorn my life into an uncertain future. How do I KNOW whether I'll want to ever read The Dice Man again? It's unlikely, sure, on account of the protagonist being a massive twat, but I might. I might want to. And then if I've given it to Oxfam I'll have to buy it again.

When you have this dilemma about at least half of your 3,000 strong book collection, it's impossible to find packing anything other than a massive, tumourous lump of stress.

Oh yeah, and who the hell has three of the same edition of Love All The People?Not one of them is the extended edition. I mean, Bill Hicks is a legend, but for fuck's sake. Some kind of cataloguing system could be in order when I finally get to the new house....

Monday, 12 March 2012

I've pretty much lost the funny

I'm totally paraphrasing Hamlet there. I think my words work better than Shakespeare's, yeah?

As mentioned in my previous post, blogs have been writing themselves in my mind. Unfortunately they seem to be taking a sinister turn. I'm toying with a few of them to see if they cheer themselves the fuck up, but until then in my mind they will stay.

It is, clearly, a weird time. I know I don't mention it much but I am arse-clenchingly terrified about my move away. A move which is moving nearer and nearer. To the point that it is a week tomorrow.

A certain part of me has been moving ahead and organising stuff, so clearly part of me thinks this is the right thing to do. The other part of me is clinging on to the last vestiges of her sanity right now. And the doorframe. I don't know how my friends are going to prise my clammy grip away from my doorframe next Tuesday. I love this house. I mean, I LOVE it. It has been comfort and home and refuge and the scene of arguments, merry making, mirth and, well, quite filthy things to be honest. I don't want to leave it. I just don't want to.

My landlord came round the other day. The last time he came round I went to great lengths to hide Fatman and all trace thereof. I was so stressed this time that I didn't even bother. I mean, what was he going to do? Evict me? You know what he did? He told me that I've been a great tenant, that he's sorry to lose me, that he kept the rent lowish for the last five years because he wanted me to stay, that if I change my mind before the 20th to let him know... He looked Fatman right in the eye and didn't say a word. And it nearly made me cry.

Don't tempt me Mr Landlord. I can't change my mind now.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Worst fears

I've just been released from my own personal Guantanamo. My gilded workhouse. My dark and lonely palace of despair. I have, in short, finally - oh FUCKING FINALLY - finished some freelance assignments that felt like how I imagine giving birth feels. Painful, messy and endless. Except, instead of shelling out endless cash for the pleasure of the experience (it costs £9 million to raise a child up to the age of 18 apparently) I am at least getting paid for it.

All the sobbing and 18 hour days was totally worth it then.

And like a dam has broken, my mind began to write blogs inside it again. So here I am. Did you miss me? Did you, in fact, notice? I'm guessing not but I like to dream.

The first thing my mind thought about was the first Fay Weldon book I ever read. It was called Worst Fears. And it's about the delusion we all have about being in control of our lives and our relationships with others. It centres around a secure, confident actress whose husband dies of a sudden heart attack while she is away working. She comes home to her best friend who she knows inside out and her comfortable home.

It soon becomes apparent that her husband was having sex when he died. She starts to uncover a web of deceit and subterfuge, with people showing over and over again that loyalties and bonds are as fragile as a bridge made of feathers. Deeper and deeper she goes until she realises that no-one is who they appeared on the surface and her place in her world was a total self deluding fabrication.

Every worst worst worst fear is realised but it ends with her shedding these blackened bonds and flying off to a new life. Realising your worst fears can be liberating as well as terrifying.

I read this years and years ago and I've read it only once. But it has stuck with me. The bonds that tie us together in friendships and relationships are rarely simple and never certain. I think it's vital to assume an understanding of the dynamics that tie us to other people, otherwise it would be impossible to forge any kind of relationship, deep or otherwise.

So we all tell ourselves we know where we stand, how other people feel about us and hide our own urges to destroy, annhiliate and conquer under passive aggression, muted silence and routine. If we all let the animal urges out then where would we be? Everyone'd be fucking everyone else with wild abandon and family units would have no chance. Friendship groups would shatter and trust would be a rare commodity. On the flipside we bury love, lust and wishes to belong because neediness is frightening and unwelcome in an age of enforced emotional independence and self-reliance.

I've been thinking a lot about friendship bonds as I gear up to move phsyically away from most of mine. By necessity I'll have to create new ones. And I'm coming to terms with the fact that it really is quality over quantity. Low self esteem and horrible school days left me with an overwhelming need to collect friends like other people collect DVD boxsets, but these last 12 years in Leam have taught me that to rely on the majority is a folly. Find the gems, keep them close, and chuck the rest in the bin.